The Life of Sir Richard Burton, by Thomas Wright

Chapter XXVIII

The Two Translations Compared

134. The Blacksmith Who, etc.

Having glanced through the Nights, let us now compare the two famous translations. As we have already mentioned, Burton in his Translator’s Foreword did not do Mr. Payne complete justice, but he pays so many compliments to Mr. Payne’s translation elsewhere that no one can suppose that he desired to underrate the work of his friend. In the Foreword he says that Mr. Payne “succeeds admirably in the most difficult passages and often hits upon choice and special terms and the exact vernacular equivalent of the foreign word so happily and so picturesquely that all future translators must perforce use the same expression under pain of falling far short.” Still this does not go far enough, seeing that, as we said before, he made his translation very largely a paraphrase of Payne’s. Consequently he was able to get done in two broken years (April 1884 to April 1886) and with several other books in hand, work that had occupied Mr. Payne six years (1876-1882). Let us now take Mr. Payne’s rendering and Burton’s rendering of two short tales and put them in juxtaposition. The Blacksmith who could handle Fire without Hurt and Abu Al Hasan and Abu Ja’afar the Leper will suit our purpose admirably.

The portion taken by Burton from Payne are in italics.

         Payne                             Burton
     Vol. V. p. 25                      Vol. V. p. 271
                                (Lib. Ed., vol. iv., p. 220)

    THE BLACKSMITH WHO               THE BLACKSMITH WHO
    COULD HANDLE FIRE                 COULD HANDLE FIRE
     WITHOUT HURT                       WITHOUT HURT

  A certain pious man             It reached the ears of
once heard that there           a certain pious man that
abode in such a town a          there abode in such a town
blacksmith who could            a blacksmith who could
put his hand into the fire      put his hand into the fire
and pull out the red-hot        and pull out the iron red-hot,
iron, without its doing         without the flames
him any hurt.  So he set        doing him aught of hurt.
out for the town in question    So he set out for the town in
and enquiring for the           question and asked for
blacksmith, watched him         the blacksmith; and when
at work and saw him do          the man was shown to
as had been reported to         him; he watched him at
him.  He waited till he         work and saw him do as
had made an end of his          had been reported to him.
day's work, then going          He waited till he had made
up to him, saluted him          an end of his day's work;
and said to him, "I             then, going up to him,
would fain be thy guest         saluted him with the salam
this night."  "With all         and said, "I would be thy
my heart," replied the          guest this night."  Replied
smith, and carried him to       the smith, "With gladness
his house, where they           and goodly gree!" and
supped together and lay         carried him to his place,
down to sleep.  The guest       where they supped together
watched his host, but           and lay down to sleep.
found no sign of [special]      The guest watched but saw
devoutness in him and           no sign in his host of praying
said to himself.  "Belike       through the night or
he concealeth himself from      of special devoutness, and
me."  So he lodged with         said in his mind, "Haply
him a second and a third        he hideth himself from
night, but found that he        me."  So he lodged with
did no more than observe        him a second and a third
the ordinary letter of the      night, but found that he
law and rose but little         did not exceed the devotions
in the night [to pray].  At     prescribed by the
last he said to him, "O         law and custom of the
my brother, I have heard        Prophet and rose but little
of the gift with which          in the dark hours to pray.
God hath favoured thee          At last he said to him, "O
and have seen the truth of      my brother, I have heard
it with mine eyes.  Moreover,   of the gift with which
I have taken note of            Allah hath favoured thee,
thine assiduity [in             and have seen the truth of
religious exercises], but       it with mine eyes.  Moreover,
find in thee no special         I have taken note
fervour of piety, such as       of thine assiduity in
distinguisheth those in         religious exercises, but find
whom such miraculous            in thee no such piety as
gifts are manifest.             distinguished those who work
"Whence, then, cometh           saintly miracles; whence,
this to thee?"  "I will         then cometh this to thee?"
tell thee," answered the        "I will tell thee,"
smith.                          answered the smith.

"Know that I was once           "Know that I was once
passionately enamoured of       passionately enamoured
a certain damsel and            of a slave girl and oft-times
required her many a time        sued her for loveliesse,
of love, but could not          but could not prevail
prevail upon her, for           upon her, because she
that she still clave fast       still held fast by her
unto chastity.  Presently       chastity.  Presently there
there came a year of            came a year of drought and
drought and hunger and          hunger and hardship, food
hardship; food failed and       failed, and there befell a
there befell a sore famine      sore famine.  As I was
in the land.  I was sitting     sitting one day at home,
one day in my house,            somebody knocked at the
when one knocked at the         door; so I went out, and,
door; so I went out and         behold, she was standing
found her standing there;       there; and she said to
and she said to me, 'O          me, 'O my brother, I am
my brother, I am stricken       sorely an hungered and I
with excessive hunger, and      lift mine eyes to thee,
I lift mine eyes to thee,       beseeching thee to feed me,
beseeching thee to feed         for Allah's sake!'  Quoth
me for God's sake!'                I, 'Wottest thou not how
Quoth I, 'Dost thou not         I love thee and what I have
know how I love thee            suffered for thy sake?  Now
and what I have suffered        I will not give thee one
for thy sake!  I will give      bittock of bread except
thee no whit of food,           thou yield thy person
except thou yield thyself       to me.'  Quoth she,
to me.'  But she said,          'Death, but not
'Better death than              disobedience to the Lord!'
disobedience to God.'  Then     Then she went away and
she went away and               returned after two days with
returned after two days         the same prayer for food
with the same petition          as before.  I made her a
for food.  I made her a like    like answer, and she
answer, and she entered         entered and sat down in my
and sat down, being nigh        house, being nigh upon
upon death.  I set food         death.  I set food before
before her, whereupon her       her, whereupon her eyes
eyes ran over with tears,       brimmed with tears, and
and she said, 'Give me          she cried, 'Give me meat
to eat for the love of God,     for the love of Allah, to
to whom belong might            whom belong Honour and
and majesty!'  'Not so,         Glory!'  But I answered
by Allah,' answered I,          'Not so, by Allah, except
'except thou yield thyself      thou yield thyself to me.'
to me.'  Quoth she,             Quoth she, 'Better is
'Better is death to me          death to me than the wrath
than the wrath of God           and wreak of Allah the
the Most High.'  And            Most Highest; and she
she left the food               rose and left the food
untouched and went away         untouched461  and went away
repeating the following         repeating these couplets:
verses:

O, Thou, the only God, whose    O, Thou, the One, whose grace
  grace embraceth all that be,    doth all the world embrace;
  Thine ears have heard my        Thine ears have heard, Thine
  moan, Thine eyes have seen      eyes have seen my case!
  my misery;

Indeed, privation and distress  Privation and distress have dealt
  are heavy on my head; I         me heavy blows; the woes
  cannot tell of all the woes     that weary me no utterance
  that do beleaguer me.           can trace.

I'm like a man athirst, that    I am like one athirst who eyes
  looks upon a running stream,    the landscape's eye, yet may
  yet may not drink a single      not drink a draught of
  draught of all that he doth     streams that rail and race.
  see.

My flesh would have me buy its  My flesh would tempt me by the
  will, alack, its pleasures      sight of savoury food whose
  flee!  The sin that pays their  joys shall pass away and
  price abides to all eternity.   pangs maintain their place.

[The girl, "worn out with want," came a third time, and met with the same answer. But then remorse seized upon the blacksmith and he bade her, "eat, and fear not."]

"When she heard this            "Then she raised her eyes
she raised her eyes to          to heaven and said,
heaven and said,

"'O my God, if this             "'O my God, if this man
man be sincere, I pray          say sooth, I pray thee
Thee forbid fire to do          forbid fire to harm him
him hurt in this world          in this world and the
and the next, for Thou art      next, for Thou over all
He that answereth prayer        things art Omnipotent and
and art powerful to do          Prevalent in answering the
whatsoever Thou wilt!'          prayer of the penitent!'

"Then I left her and            Then I left her and went
went to put out the fire        to put out the fire in
in the brasier.  Now the        the brazier.  Now the
time was the winter-cold,       season was winter and the
and a hot coal fell on          weather cold, and a live
my body; but by the             coal fell on my body, but
ordinance of God (to            by the decree of Allah (to
whom belong might and           whom be Honour and
majesty), I felt no pain        Glory!) I felt no pain, and
and it was born in upon         it became my conviction
me that her prayer had          that her prayer had been
been answered."                 answered."

[The girl then praised God, who “straightway took her soul to Him.” The story finishes with some verses which are rendered by Payne and Burton each according to his wont.]

461 Here occurs the break of “Night 472.”

135. Abu al-Hasan.

We will next take “Abu al-Hasan and Abu Ja’afar the Leper.”

         Payne                             Burton
         V. 49                             V. 294
                                    (Lib. Ed., iv., 242)

   ABOULHUSN ED DURRAJ                 ABU AL-HASAN
   AND ABOU JAAFER THE                      AND
         LEPER                     ABU JA'AFAR THE LEPER

Quoth Aboulhusn ed              I had been many times
Durraj, I had been many         to Mecca (Allah increase
times to Mecca (which           its honour!) and the folk
God increase in honour)         used to follow me for my
and the folk used to follow     knowledge of the road and
me by reason of my knowledge    remembrance of the water
of the road and                 stations.  It happened one
the watering-places.  It        year that I was minded to
chanced one year that I         make the pilgrimage to
was minded to make the          the Holy House and visitation
pilgrimage to the Holy          of the tomb of His
House of God and visit the      Prophet (on whom be
tomb of His prophet (on         blessing and the Peace!)
whom be peace and blessing),    and I said in myself.  "I
and I said to myself,           well know the way and
"I know the road and will       will fare alone."  So I
go alone."  So I set out        set out and journeyed till I
and journeyed till I came       came to Al-Kadisiyah, and
to El Cadesiyeh, and entering   entering the Mosque there,
the Mosque there, saw           saw a man suffering from
a leper seated in the           black leprosy seated in
prayer-niche.  When he          the prayer-niche.  Quoth he
saw me, he said to me,          on seeing me, "O Abu
"O Aboulhusn, I crave           al-Hasan, I crave thy company
thy company to Mecca."          to Meccah."  Quoth I
Quoth I to myself, "I           to myself, "I fled from all
wished to avoid companions,     my companions and how
and how shall I                 shall I company with lepers."
company with lepers?"           So I said to him, "I will
So I said to him, "I will       bear no man company,"
bear no one company,"           and he was silent at my
and he was silent.              words.

Next day I continued            Next day I walked on
my journey alone, till I        alone, till I came to
came to Acabeh, where           Al-Akabah, where I entered
I entered the Mosque and        the mosque and found the
was amazed to find the          leper seated in the prayer
leper seated in the prayer-     niche.  So I said to myself,
niche.  "Glory be to God,"      "Glory be to Allah!
said I in myself.  "How         how hath this fellow preceded
hath this fellow foregone       me hither."  But
me hither?"  But he             he raised his head to me
raised his eyes to me           and said with a smile, "O
and said, smiling, "O,          Abu al-Hasan, He doth
Aboulhusn, He doth for          for the weak that which
the weak that which the         surpriseth the strong!"
strong wonder at."  I           I passed that night confounded
passed that night in            at what I had
perplexity, confounded at       seen; and, as soon as
what I had seen, and in         morning dawned, set out
the morning set out again       again by myself; but
by myself; but when I           when I came to Arafat
came to Arafat and entered      and entered the mosque,
the mosque, behold,             behold! there was the leper
there was the leper seated      seated in the niche.  So I
in the niche!  So I threw       threw myself upon him
myself upon him and kissing     and kissing his feet said,
his feet, said, "O my           "O my lord, I crave thy
lord, I crave thy company."     company."  But he answered,
But he said,                    "This may in no
"This may nowise be."           way be."  Then I began
Whereupon I fell a-weeping      weeping and wailing at
and lamenting, and              the loss of his company
he said: "Peace: weeping        when he said, "Spare thy
will avail thee nothing,"       tears, which will avail thee
And he recited the              naught!" and he recited
following verses:               these couplets:

For my estrangement dost thou   Why dost thou weep when I
  weep,--whereas it came          depart and thou didst parting
  from thee,--And restoration     claim; and cravest union
  dost implore, when none,        when we ne'er shall re-unite
  alas! may be?                   the same?

Thou sawst my weakness and      Thou lookedest on nothing save
  disease, as it appeared, and    my weakness and disease;
  saidst, "He goes, nor comes,    and saidst, "Nor goes, nor
  or night, or day, for this his  comes, or night, or day, this
  malady."                        sickly frame."

Seest not that God (exalted be    Seest not how Allah (glorified
  His glory) to His slave           His glory ever be!) deigneth
  vouchsafeth all he can conceive   to grant His slave's petition
  of favour fair and free!          wherewithal he came.

If I, to outward vision, be as    If I, to eyes of men be that and
  it appears and eke in body, for   only that they see, and this
  despite of fate, e'en that        my body show itself so full
  which thou dost see.              of grief and grame.

And eke no victual though I       And I have nought of food that
  have, unto the holy place         shall supply me to the place
  where crowds unto my Lord         where crowds unto my Lord
  resort, indeed, to carry me.      resort impelled by single aim.

I have a Maker, hidden are His    I have a high Creating Lord
  bounties unto me; yea,            whose mercies aye are hid;
  there's no parting me from        a Lord who hath none equal
  Him, and without peer is He.      and no fear is known to Him.

Depart from me in peace and       So fare thee safe and leave me
  leave me and my strangerhood;     lone in strangerhood to wone.
  For with the lonely               For He the only One, consoles
  exile still the One shall         my loneliness so lone.
  company.

So I left him and continued       Accordingly I left him,
my journey; and                   but every station I came
every stage I came to, I          to, I found he had foregone
found him before me, till         me, till I reached Al-Madinah,
I came to Medina, where           where I lost sight
I lost sight of him and           of him, and could hear
could hear no news of             no tidings of him.  Here
him.  Here I met Abou             I met Abu Yazid
Yezid el Bustani and Abou         al-Bustami and Abu Bakr
Beker es Shibli and a             al-Shibli and a number of
number of other doctors,          other Shaykhs and learned
to whom I told my case,           men to whom with many
and they said, "God               complaints I told my case,
forbid that thou shouldst         and they said, "Heaven
gain his company after            forbid that thou shouldst
this!  This was Abou              gain his company after
Jaafer the leper, in whose        this!  He was Abu Ja'afar
name, at all tides, the folk      the leper, in whose name
pray for rain, and by whose       folk at all times pray for
blessings prayers are answered."  rain and by whose blessing
When I heard                      prayers their end attain."
this, my longing for his          When I heard their words,
company redoubled and             my desire for his company
I implored God to reunite         redoubled and I implored
me with him.  Whilst I            the Almighty to reunite me
was standing on Arafat,           with him.  Whilst I was
one plucked me from behind,       standing on Arafat one
so I turned and                   pulled me from behind, so
behold, it was Abou Jaafer.       I turned and behold, it
At this sight I gave a loud       was my man.  At this
cry and fell down in a            sight I cried out with a
swoon; but when I came            loud cry and fell down in
to myself, he was gone.           a fainting fit; but when I
                                  came to myself he had disappeared
                                  from my sight.

This increased my yearning        This increased my yearning
for him and the ways              for him and the
were straitened upon              ceremonies were tedious to
me and I prayed God to            me, and I prayed Almighty
give me sight of him;             Allah to give me sight of
nor was it but a few days         him; nor was it but a few
after when one pulled me          days after, when lo! one
from behind, and I turned,        pulled me from behind,
and behold, it was he             and I turned and it was
again.  Quoth he, "I conjure      he again.  Thereupon he
thee, ask thy desire              said, "Come, I conjure
of me."  So I begged him          thee, and ask thy want of
to pray three prayers to          me."  So I begged him to
God for me; first, that           pray for me three prayers:
He would make me love             first, that Allah would make
poverty; secondly, that I         me love poverty; secondly,
might never lie down to           that I might never lie down
sleep upon known provision,       at night upon provision
and thirdly, that                 assured to me; and
He, the Bountiful One,            thirdly, that he would
would vouchsafe me to             vouchsafe me to look upon
look upon His face.  So he        His bountiful face.  So
prayed for me, as I wished,       he prayed for me as I
and departed from me.             wished, and departed from
And, indeed, God hath             me.  And indeed Allah
granted me the first two          hath granted me what the
prayers; for He hath              devotee asked in prayer;
made me in love with              to begin with he hath made
poverty, so that, by Allah,       me so love poverty that, by
there is nought in the            the Almighty! there is
world dearer to me than           nought in the world dearer
it, and since such a year,        to me than it, and secondly
I have never lain down            since such a year I have
upon assured provision;           never lain down to sleep
yet hath He never let me          upon assured provision,
lack of aught.  As for the        withal hath He never let
third prayer, I trust that        me lack aught.  As for the
He will vouchsafe me that         third prayer, I trust that
also, even as He hath             he will vouchsafe me that
granted the two others,           also, even as He hath
for He is bountiful and           granted the two precedent,
excellently beneficient.  And     for right Bountiful and
may God have mercy on             Beneficient is His Godhead,
him who saith:                    and Allah have mercy on
                                  him who said;

Renouncement, lowliness, the      Garb of Fakir, renouncement,
  fakir's garments be; In           lowliness;
  patched and tattered clothes    His robe of tatters and of rags
  still fares the devotee.          his dress;

Pallor adorneth him, as on their  And pallor ornamenting brow
  latest nights, The moons          as though
  with pallor still embellished   'Twere wanness such as waning
  thou mayst see.                   crescents show.

Long rising up by night to pray   Wasted him prayer a-through
  hath wasted him; And from         the long-lived night,
  his lids the tears stream down. And flooding tears ne'er cease
  as 'twere a sea.                  to dim his sight.

The thought of God to him his     Memory of Him shall cheer his
  very housemate is; For            lonely room;
  bosom friend by night, th'      Th' Almighty nearest is in
  Omnipotent hath he.               nightly gloom.

God the Protector helps the fakir The Refuge helpeth such Fakir
  in his need; And birds and        in need;
  beasts no less to succour him   Help e'en the cattle and the
  agree.                            winged breed;

On his account, the wrath of      Allah for sake of him of wrath
  God on men descends, And          is fain,
  by his grace, the rains fall    And for the grace of him shall
  down on wood and lea.             fall the rain;

And if he pray one day to do      And if he pray one day for plague
  away a plague, The oppressor's    to stay,
  slain and men from              'Twill stay, and 'bate man's
  tyrants are made free;            wrong and tyrants slay.

For all the folk are sick,        While folk are sad, afflicted one
  afflicted and diseased, And he's  and each,
  the pitying leach withouten     He in his mercy's rich, the
  stint or fee.                     generous leach;

His forehead shines; an thou      Bright shines his brow; an thou
  but look upon his face, Thy       regard his face
  heart is calmed, the lights of  Thy heart illumined shines by
  heaven appear to thee.            light of grace.

O thou that shunnest these, their  O thou that shunnest souls of
  virtues knowing not, Woe's        worth innate,
  thee!  Thou'rt shut from        Departs thee (woe to thee!) of
  them by thine iniquity.           sins the weight.

Thou think'st them to o'ertake,   Thou thinkest to overtake them,
  for all thou'rt fettered fast;    while thou bearest
  Thy sins from thy desire        Follies, which slay thee whatso
  do hinder thee, perdie.           way thou farest.

Thou wouldst to them consent      Didst not their worth thou hadst
  and rivers from thine eyes        all honour showed
  Would run from them, if thou    And tears in streamlets from
  their excellence could'st see.    thine eyes had flowed.

Uneath to him to smell, who's     To catarrh-troubled men flowers
  troubled with a rheum, Are        lack their smell;
  flowers; the broker knows       And brokers ken for how much
  what worth the garments be.       clothes can sell;

So supplicate thy Lord right      So haste and with thy Lord
  humbly for His grace And          re-union sue,
  Providence, belike, shall       And haply fate shall lend thee
  help thy constancy;               aidance due.

And thou shalt win thy will and   Rest from rejection and
  from estrangement's stress        estrangement stress,
  And eke rejection's pains       And joy thy wish and will shall
  shall be at rest and free.        choicely bless.

The asylum of His grace is wide   His court wide open for the
  enough for all That seek; The     suer is dight:--
  one true God, the               One, very God, the Lord, th'
  Conqueror, is He!                 Almighty might.

We may also compare the two renderings of that exquisite and tender little poem “Azizeh’s Tomb”462 which will be found in the “Tale of Aziz and Azizeh.”

         Payne                             Burton

I passed by a ruined tomb in the  I past by a broken tomb amid
  midst of a garden way, Upon       a garth right sheen, Whereon
  whose letterless stone seven      on seven blooms of Nu'aman
  blood-red anemones lay.           glowed with cramoisie.

"Who sleeps in this unmarked      Quoth I, "Who sleepeth in this
  grave?"  I said, and the          tomb?"  Quoth answering
  earth, "Bend low; For a           earth, "Before a lover
  lover lies here and waits for     Hades-tombed bend reverently."
  the Resurrection Day."

"God keep thee, O victim of       Quoth I, "May Allah help thee,
  love!"  I cried, "and bring       O thou slain of love, And
  thee to dwell In the highest      grant thee home in heaven
  of all the heavens of Paradise,   and Paradise-height to see!
  I pray!

"How wretched are lovers all,     "Hapless are lovers all e'en
  even in the sepulchre,            tombed in their tombs,
  For their very tombs are          Where amid living folk the
  covered with ruin and decay!      dust weighs heavily!

"Lo! if I might, I would plant    "Fain would I plant a garden
  thee a garden round about,        blooming round thy grave
  and with my streaming tears       And water every flower with
  the thirst of its flowers         tear-drops flowing
  allay!"                           free!"463

462 Burton’s A. N., ii., p. 324-5; Lib. Ed., ii., p, 217; Payne, ii., p. 247.

463 The reader may like to compare some other passages. Thus the lines “Visit thy lover,” etc. in Night 22, occur also in Night 312. In the first instance Burton gives his own rendering, in the second Payne’s. See also Burton’s A. N., viii., 262 (Lib. Ed., vi., 407); viii., 282 (Lib. Ed., vii., 18); viii., 314 (Lib. Ed., vii., 47); viii., 326 (Lib. Ed., vii., 59); and many other places.

136. The Summing Up.

The reader will notice from these citations:

(1) That, as we have already said, and as Burton himself partly admitted, Burton’s translation is largely a paraphrase of Payne’s. This is particularly noticeable in the latter half of the Nights. He takes hundreds — nay thousands — of sentences and phrases from Payne, often without altering a single word.464 If it be urged that Burton was quite capable of translating the Nights without drawing upon the work of another, we must say that we deeply regret that he allowed the opportunity to pass, for he had a certain rugged strength of style, as the best passages in his Mecca and other books show. In order to ensure originality he ought to have translated every sentence before looking to see how Payne put it, but the temptation was too great for a very busy man — a man with a hundred irons in the fire — and he fell.465

(2) That, where there are differences, Payne’s translation is invariably the clearer, finer and more stately of the two. Payne is concise, Burton diffuse.466

(3) That although Burton is occasionally happy and makes a pat couplet, like the one beginning “Kisras and Caesars,” nevertheless Payne alone writes poetry, Burton’s verse being quite unworthy of so honourable a name. Not being, like Payne, a poet and a lord of language; and, as he admits, in his notes, not being an initiate in the methods of Arabic Prosody, Burton shirked the isometrical rendering of the verse. Consequently we find him constantly annexing Payne’s poetry bodily, sometimes with acknowledgement, oftener without. Thus in Night 867 he takes half a page. Not only does he fail to reproduce agreeably the poetry of the Nights, but he shows himself incapable of properly appreciating it. Notice, for example, his remark on the lovely poem of the Fakir at the end of the story of “Abu Al-Hasan and Abu Ja’afer the Leper,” the two versions of which we gave on a preceding page. Burton calls it “sad doggerel,” and, as he translates it, so it is. But Payne’s version, with its musical subtleties and choice phrases, such as “The thought of God to him his very housemate is,” is a delight to the ear and an enchantment of the sense. Mr. Payne in his Terminal Essay singles out the original as one of the finest pieces of devotional verse in the Nights; and worthy of Vaughan or Christina Rossetti. The gigantic nature of Payne’s achievement will be realised when we mention that The Arabian Nights contains the equivalent of some twenty thousand decasyllabic lines of poetry, that is to say more than there are in Milton’s Paradise Lost, and that he has rendered faithfully the whole of this enormous mass in accordance with the intricate metrical scheme of the original, and in felicitous and beautiful language.

(4) That Burton, who was well read in the old English poets, also introduces beautiful words. This habit, however, is more noticeable in other passages where we come upon cilice,467 egromancy,468 verdurous,469 vergier,470 rondure,471 purfled,472 &c. Often he uses these words with excellent effect, as, for example, “egromancy,”473 in the sentence: “Nor will the egromancy be dispelled till he fall from the horse;” but unfortunately he is picturesque at all costs. Thus he constantly puts “purfled” where he means “embroidered” or “sown,” and in the “Tale of the Fisherman and the Jinni,” he uses incorrectly the pretty word “cucurbit”474 to express a brass pot; and many other instances might be quoted. His lapses, indeed, indicate that he had no real sense of the value of words. He uses them because they are pretty, forgetting that no word is attractive except in its proper place, just as colours in painting owe their value to their place in the general colour scheme. He took most of his beautiful words from our old writers, and a few like ensorcelled475 from previous translators. Unfortunately, too, he spoils his version by the introduction of antique words that are ugly, uncouth, indigestible and yet useless. What, for example, does the modern Englishman make of this, taken from the “Tale of the Wolf and the Fox,” “Follow not frowardness, for the wise forbid it; and it were most manifest frowardness to leave me in this pit draining the agony of death and dight to look upon mine own doom, whereas it lieth in thy power to deliver me from my stowre?”476 Or this: “O rare! an but swevens477 prove true,” from “Kamar-al-Zalam II.” Or this “Sore pains to gar me dree,” from “The Tale of King Omar,” or scores of others that could easily be quoted.478

Burton, alas! was also unscrupulous enough to include one tale which, he admitted to Mr. Kirby, does not appear in any redaction of the Nights, namely that about the misfortune that happened to Abu Hassan on his Wedding day.479 “But,” he added, “it is too good to be omitted.” Of course the tale does not appear in Payne. To the treatment meted by each translator to the coarsenesses of the Nights we have already referred. Payne, while omitting nothing, renders such passages in literary language, whereas Burton speaks out with the bluntness and coarseness of an Urquhart.

In his letter to Mr. Payne, 22nd October 1884, he says of Mr. Payne’s translation, “The Nights are by no means literal but very readable which is the thing.” He then refers to Mr. Payne’s rendering of a certain passage in the “Story of Sindbad and the Old Man of the Sea,” by which it appears that the complaint of want of literality refers, as usual, solely to the presentable rendering of the offensive passages. “I translate,” he says **********. “People will look fierce, but ce n’est pas mon affaire.” The great value of Burton’s translation is that it is the work of a man who had travelled in all the countries in which the scenes are laid; who had spent years in India, Egypt, Syria, Turkey and the Barbary States, and had visited Mecca; who was intimately acquainted with the manners and customs of the people of those countries, and who brought to bear upon his work the experience of a lifetime. He is so thoroughly at home all the while. Still, it is in his annotations and not in his text that he really excells. The enormous value of these no one would now attempt to minimize.

All over the world, as Sir Walter Besant says, “we have English merchants, garrisons, consuls, clergymen, lawyers, physicians, engineers, living among strange people, yet practically ignorant of their manners and thoughts. . . . . it wants more than a knowledge of the tongue to become really acquainted with a people.” These English merchants, garrisons, consults and others are strangers in a strange land. It is so very rare that a really unprejudiced man comes from a foreign country to tell us what its people are like, that when such a man does appear we give him our rapt attention. He may tell us much that will shock us, but that cannot be helped.

464 Thus in the story of Ibrahim and Jamilah [Night 958], Burton takes 400 words — that is nearly a page — verbatim, and without any acknowledgement. It is the same, or thereabouts, every page you turn to.

465 Of course, the coincidences could not possibly have been accidental, for both translators were supposed to take from the four printed Arabic editions. We shall presently give a passage by Burton before Payne translated it, and it will there be seen that the phraseology of the one translator bears no resemblance whatever to that of the other. And yet, in this latter instance, each translator took from the same original instead of from four originals. See Chapter xxiii.

466 At the same time the Edinburgh Review (July 1886) goes too far. It puts its finger on Burton’s blemishes, but will not allow his translation a single merit. It says, “Mr. Payne is possessed of a singularly robust and masculine prose style . . . Captain Burton’s English is an unreadable compound of archaeology and slang, abounding in Americanisms, and full of an affected reaching after obsolete or foreign words and phrases.”

467 “She drew her cilice over his raw and bleeding skin.” [Payne has “hair shirt.”] — “Tale of the Ensorcelled Prince.” Lib. Ed., i., 72.

468 “Nor will the egromancy be dispelled till he fall from his horse.” [Payne has “charm be broken.”] — “Third Kalendar’s Tale.” Lib. Ed., i., 130. “By virtue of my egromancy become thou half stone and half man.” [Payne has “my enchantments.”] — “Tale of the Ensorcelled Prince.” Lib. Ed., i., 71.

469 “The water prisoned in its verdurous walls.” — “Tale of the Jewish Doctor.”

470 “Like unto a vergier full of peaches.” [Note. — O.E. “hortiyard” Mr. Payne’s word is much better.] — “Man of Al Zaman and his Six Slave Girls.”

471 “The rondure of the moon.” — “Hassan of Bassorah.” [Shakespeare uses this word, Sonnet 21, for the sake of rhythm. Caliban, however, speaks of the “round of the moon.”]

472 “That place was purfled with all manner of flowers.” [Purfled means bordered, fringed, so it is here used wrongly.] Payne has “embroidered,” which is the correct word. — “Tale of King Omar,” Lib. Ed., i., 406.

473 Burton says that he found this word in some English writer of the 17th century, and, according to Murray, “Egremauncy occurs about 1649 in Grebory’s Chron. Camd. Soc. 1876, 183.” Mr. Payne, however, in a letter to me, observes that the word is merely an ignorant corruption of “negromancy,” itself a corruption of a corruption it is “not fit for decent (etymological) society.”

474 A well-known alchemical term, meaning a retort, usually of glass, and completely inapt to express a common brass pot, such as that mentioned in the text. Yellow copper is brass; red copper is ordinary copper.

475 Fr. ensorceler — to bewitch. Barbey d’Aurevilly’s fine novel L’Ensorcelee, will be recalled. Torrens uses this word, and so does Payne, vol. v., 36. “Hath evil eye ensorcelled thee?”

476 Lib. Ed., ii., 360.

477 Swevens — dreams.

478 Burton, indeed, while habitually paraphrasing Payne, no less habitually resorts, by way of covering his “conveyances,” to the clumsy expedient of loading the test with tasteless and grotesque additions and variations (e.g., “with gladness and goodly gree,” “suffering from black leprosy,” “grief and grame,” “Hades-tombed,” “a garth right sheen,” “e’en tombed in their tombs,” &c., &c.), which are not only meaningless, but often in complete opposition to the spirit and even the letter of the original, and, in any case, exasperating in the highest degree to any reader with a sense of style.

479 Burton’s A. N., v., 135; Lib. Ed., iv., 95.

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